"So if God is behind something as small as an old suitcase coming to light, I could believe He’s looking for ways to heal us in our brokenness. And certainly to be there with us in our grief” (The Italian Ballerina, Kindle location 2583).
Brokenness and beauty.
Grace and grit.
Grief and growth.
Prodigal sons and an orphaned child.
Love willing to lay down its life for a stranger or a friend.
These are some of the central themes of the new World War II novel, The Italian Ballerina, by Kristy Cambron. This is a dual-timeline story, with the Italian ballerina of the title supplying the hinge connecting the two eras. This is a fun, sweet romance by a Christian author, but it is not preachy at all and should appeal to a general audience as well as the Christian book market. A literary vacation lies within its pages.
In the modern timeline, journalist “between pens” Delaney Coleman travels to Tivoli, near Rome, to deliver a child’s suitcase, mysteriously found among her recently deceased grandfather’s belongings, to an elderly ballerina who claims to be its rightful owner. The story of both the combat-medic grandfather and the unfolds in the World War II timeline. Love blooms in both. The unanswered questions and mysteries keep the pages turning; Cambron times the big reveals well to keep the reader guessing but not frustrated.
At the same time, the novel draws attention to a real historical rescue operation in which three hospital doctors and a priest in Rome invented a highly contagious terminal disease, Syndrome K, in order to rescue as many Jews as possible from the Holocaust. The city and hospital were occupied by Nazi troops, yet these brave men hid the rescued ones right under the soldiers’ noses. (Some of the discussions of masking and how contagious the disease struck me as ironic given the book’s pandemic publication.)
For me, the ballet parts of the tale were especially nostalgic. So many life lessons are learned through the arts, so many heartaches soothed. My dearest interests in childhood were books, ballet, and piano. If I wasn’t practicing ballet in the front hallway to my album of piano music for ballet practice, there was a good chance I was reading books about ballet and the history of ballet. In third grade I did a book report on a biography of English prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn and a yearlong project on Fonteyn and Native American prima Maria Tallchief. Consequently, the mentions of Sadler’s Wells, the Old Vic, and Covent Garden, and even the dropping of Dame Margot’s name, were lovely connections to my childhood. My mind’s eye can see how British Julia Bradbury and Calla Santini move because I lived in that world for a decade.
For my reading habits, this is not likely a book I will return to again and again, but it is a delightful (and clean) escape for readers who enjoy stories set in World War II, tales of courage real and fictional, the ballet, Christian romance, and classic films (especially Roman Holiday). (It also has the makings of a beautiful movie.) Books with a similar sensibility include The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Before We Were Yours, and Eternal. There is some wartime violence described when necessary to the plot. If you, like me, can’t take a summer vacation (again), this novel might just be the cold glass of lemonade needed to cheer your soul.
Full disclosure: I received a complimentary NetGalley copy of this book prior to publication in exchange for an honest review.
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This book releases July 12, 2022.